Creating an inclusive Future Internet: Web 2.0 applications for all

Press release: 26th October 2011

A consortium of researchers and user organizations from across Europe is investigating the accessibility of Web 2.0 applications for disabled and older people. The group will then create new tools to help developers produce applications that are more accessible to these groups.

The original World Wide Web, Web 1.0, was largely about people receiving information: reading text, viewing images and watching videos. Now the Web has evolved, very rapidly, into Web 2.0 in which people not only receive information, but also create their own information, whether that is updating their status on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, uploading their photographs to sites like Flickr or Picasa or undertaking complex transactions on online banking or government websites.  More and more, users are interacting with the Web, not simply reading it.

People with disabilities and older people have the right to participate in all these interesting new activities.  They are also often very interested to participate and it may allow them to alleviate the barriers created by their disability.  For example, it may be preferable or easier for a person with a visual impairment to use an online banking website than to stand in line at the banking machine in the street. 

Currently there is very little support for developers of Web 2.0 applications on how to make their applications usable by disabled and older people.  Further, incompatibilities between the assistive technologies that disabled people use and Web 2.0 applications often make it difficult for people to make sense of Web 2.0 applications. The I2Web Project will therefore develop tools that will help web developers write applications that are more usable by older and disabled users.  The project will also create modules that allow applications to adapt to the needs and strategies of older and disabled users and allow the applications to work with their assistive devices and software better.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT in Germany is leading the €2.7 million project, called “Inclusive Future Internet Web Services” (I2Web), which is supported by the Software and Services Unit of the EU Framework 7 ICT Programme. FIT is also participating in the development of the tools for the project. Other industry and research organizations involved in I2Web are:

  • User organisations from the UK (Foundation for Assistive Technology) and Ireland (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) who ensure that the needs and preferences of key user groups are represented in the final I2Web tools
  • Industry partners in major Web 2.0 markets such as e-banking (Hewlett Packard, Italy), e-government (Public-I, UK) and multi-channel delivery systems (Polymedia, Italy) who are bringing their innovative tools and technical expertise to the project
  • MAC the Irish National Microelectronics Applications Centre is working to extend the impact of I2Web tools in both public and private sectors throughout the European Union and beyond
  • University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) who are contributing to components of the I2Web tools
  • University of York (UK) who will provide expertise on the design and evaluation of accessible technologies for disabled and older people

Initial work within the project has investigated the ways that disabled and older people currently use Web 2.0, particularly the strategies that they use.  This work is allowing the project to develop a new approach to accessibility: whereas the traditional approach to accessibility is based on trying to eliminate the problems that people encounter, the I2Web approach is based on the positive strategies that people use and building applications that adapt to the user, instead of the other way around.

Dr. Carlos A Velasco, Project Leader for the I2Web Project and Director of the Web Compliance Centre of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT sums up the aims of the project:  "To create Internet services that can take into account the variety of needs of their users. Web developers need access to software tools that simulate how their applications “look and feel” for users with disabilities or older users and how they work with the application. They also need to be able to systematically test their applications against accessibility guidelines and models of how disabled and older users work with applications”.